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So. Cobra Kai. Where to begin?
Anealio talked about this on The Functional Nerds Podcast back when it hit YouTube and encouraged me to check it out, but I wasn’t interested in adding another streaming service at the time. I am only watching it now because the first 2 seasons dropped on Netflix, and I am seriously impressed with the show. So much to unpack and discuss.
I’m going with the low hanging fruit here and talking about the music first. If you are a fan of 80’s music, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. Someone was kind enough to curate a Spotify Playlist – here’s the link if you want to check it out. A lot of it tends towards Johnny’s tastes given how much of the show is about him and his journey (way more on that later), so you get bands like Poison, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, etc. But there’s also a lot of other stuff to like from bands like Roxette, Journey, Queen, Wang Chung, and some covers of popular songs from back in the day that have been updated and treated well. Definitely recommend giving it a try.
Who is the hero?
Ok. Now for the meat of the thing. There was an episode of The Big Bang Theory that illustrated how differently Sheldon looks at the world through the lens of the movies he and the other guys obsess over. (If you’re not a fan of TBBT, stick with me for a min.) I can’t find the exact quote or episode, but there was a bit where the other guys were talking about heroes in movies, and in each instance, Sheldon enjoyed the movie from the inverse perspective, had been routing for the villains because he saw them as trying to bring structure and in some cases, bureaucracy and order, to an otherwise chaotic universe. The endings of each movie where the villain lost, brought him down a little.
This reminded me of a thing I’ve read before about how you are always the hero of your own story. Villains don’t usually think they are the villain – that’s how others perceive them.
When you watch The Karate Kid, Daniel is the put upon, often abused and tortured hero. Johnny is the villain. Cobra Kai, too, is the villain.
Now – flip the script to Johnny’s perspective, which is what the show Cobra Kai does so effortlessly, so effectively, you find yourself drawn in and routing for Johnny. Read that again – YOU FIND YOURSELF ROUTING FOR JOHNNY. Why?
When you see The Karate Kid narrative through Johnny’s eyes, it changes everything. He sees himself as the victim of harassment, bullying and physical abuse and attacks. He was in love. Daniel stole his girl. He was trying to work things out with her. Daniel physically attacked him without provocation. He took the high road and tried to let it go. Daniel escalated it, attacking him again and forcing Johnny to defend himself. They decided to ‘work it out’ at the karate tournament rather than continuing to escalate. Daniel cheated and used an illegal kick to win – and got away with it. Daniel ruined his life. Ruthlessly. Relentlessly.
And they lay that out for you so well, so carefully crafted and engaging by inserting little clips from the movie without added context like gut punches delivered without warning, that we totally buy into it. When you add in all grown up Daniel interacting with all grown up Johnny, and because we’re already routing for Johnny, Daniel’s actions come off as if he’s acting like a dick a lot of the time, and it really starts to hammer home this premise that Daniel really did ruin Johnny’s life. We can buy that. We’re in. Give us more.
If you go back to the films, Coba Kai is the root of all evil. Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy. That’s what those kids are taught, how they act, how they respond to situations.
It’s horrible, really.
But through Johnny’s eyes, you see a different side to it. He restarts Cobra Kai because for him, it gave him confidence. Strength. A core belief in himself, brothers surrounding him he could always count on. Honor. Those are good things, right? Of course they are! There’s a kid being bullied – Johnny can help with that by teaching him Cobra Kai’s core tenets of Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy. He can build that kid up, provide him with a foundation from which he can live his life.
And every step of the way, you see the positives of it all – you see the kids becoming more confident, standing up for themselves, being the heroes of their own stories. Taking control. Everything Johnny sees and lives and believes.
But Daniel sees it as horrible, destructive, seductive – a slippery slope on the path to being bad. Cobra Kai represents everything bad about karate and life he was taught, that he lives every day. He fights against it, rails against it, and comes off as a dick – again, and repeatedly.
The show is amazingly well written and acted. It’s fascinating and compelling television. I am blown away.